The People

John M

Game Designer
Joining us from an ornate wicker and brass seltzogene comes John. Procedurally generated by the great Meme-Mills of Tartary, John is one if not all of the Lagrangian points of the Design team, remaining motionless against the gravitational tug of our Enthusiasms and Fears. Like a pitot tube (some say annubar), by him we measure and maintain a steady trajectory through the buffeting clouds of This and That. In some ways John is the Tuyere through which Design is blasted into the molten mass of game ideas roiling in the forge that is Production. Indeed, one might even say that he is the allegorical Pozzolana of the game design team, being metaphorically mixed with lime (work) to form a rheologicaly plastic paste (um, more work?) which then sets into a hard cementitious mass (I've lost track of this metaphor), even underwater (nope, no idea).

He’s four buses long, and can only be leapt with written prior permission. He’s OVER THERE!

Things You Were Too Afraid To Ask...

Every once in a while, we interrogate one of our own and put their answers up for all the world to see. Read on to find out more about what John does, how he ended up at Splash Damage, and more.

What do you do at Splash Damage?

I'm part of the design team and mostly work with our dev tools to create content for the game itself. I’ve just finished some [censored] content and am now working on in-game [censored]. The rest of the time, like everyone else on the design team, I provide feedback to other members of the development team as they implement features.

Why did you want to work in the games industry and how did you get started?

Games have been part of my life since before I can remember. I tried a few other ‘serious’ jobs before returning to college (aged 24), to get the skills I needed to make games for a living. How I got started depends on what you consider my start was. My parents were my main influence, my Dad is a primary school teacher in Dublin with a love of all things tech. Thanks to him I was writing text adventures on a BBC Micro when I was about 10. My Mum is a gymnastics coach (amongst many things) with a love of puzzles and board games. She had me designing 2D vertical scrolling shooters using cardboard and egg cartons around the same time I was writing those text adventures.

But I suppose what you’re really asking is how I got started in commercial video games. I studied for 2 years at Ballyfermot College in Dublin to earn a diploma in computer games development, and then a further year at Brunel University to earn an MA in Digital Games Theory and Development. While I was writing my dissertation for the MA I got the chance to do 2 weeks work at Lionhead Studios and that turned into my first job in the industry which was junior designer on Fable 2.

Do you have any tips for people wanting to break in?

Go to university. Yes there are plenty of examples of games developers that didn’t go to university, but for new starters thats the exception not the rule. Further education isn’t about learning how to do a job, it’s about learning how to learn, and in video games you can’t afford to stop learning. Universities also give you the time and opportunity to make contacts and build up a solid portfolio.

What games have you worked on? Which one did you enjoy the most?

I've worked on Fable 2 (Microsoft Games, 2008) and its two DLC packs Knothole Island and See the Future, as well as Brink.

Seeing as we're not finished with Brink just yet, I'd have to say Fable 2: See the 'Future is my favourite.

I joined the Fable 2 team a year and a bit before the game was released so pretty much all of my work was something I was supporting or taking over from someone else. When we started on the DLC packs I got the chance to experiment and try out some ideas. See the Future has a few things that I’m really proud of, parts of the game that I can point to where I know I was involved with from start to finish and that made a real difference to the quality of the game.

How did you end up at Splash Damage?

I knew Bongoboy through some friends and he asked if I’d like to come in for a chat. Someone must have liked what they heard because I got the job.

What is it like to work at Splash Damage?

Fun, friendly, frenetic. It's worth battling through the weather for.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

The best part is seeing the game come together piece by piece. The worst is the air con in my little corner of the office, I'm freezing here!

What was your first gaming experience?

Probably a video game, and I think it was either Pete’s Monsters, Gold Digger or Frogger. I remember my mum playing Gold Digger all the time so maybe she gave me a turn of that. I could of course have the name completely wrong. The computer would have been a Dragon 32 or a Spectrum ZX80.

Editor's Note: John's mum has since contacted us to shed some light on his early computer history and to let us know exactly what the Molloys got when:

  • 1983 Dragon 32
  • 1984 Memotech MSX
  • 1987 BBC Master 128

We’re also told that John’s first games were Toado and Goldmine on the Memotech MSX.

So there you have it! Bless you, Mummy Molloy!

What types of games do you like, and what's your favorite game of all time?

Must have co-op, must be action orientated, and must have a strong story. I’m going to go with The Secret of Mana on the Super Nintendo a 3 player co-op RPG

What's the meaning behind your nickname?

I’ve been called Nifty since I was 10 years old. Originally I was Big Nifty and my brother was Little Nifty, we picked it up in a martial arts class, but it didn’t stick for him. The ‘big’ was dropped from my nickname pretty quickly since I was the second shortest guy in my class.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not at work?

Spending time with my better half. Reading, last year I set myself a challenge to read a book for every week, but fell short by about 10 books. Games wise I like board games and small video games. Lunch times at work I play bigger games with the rest of the team.

Do You Have Any Questions for John?

If you have any questions you'd like to ask John, feel free to post them in the comments below. Our forum-trained tapirs will try to answer as many of them as possible.


Woooh - New meat ! (- more Quiz questions - ) 'Favorite movie' : The Fifth Element - Oh yeah, this guy has it all
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 18:51
I was pretty much expecting to be flamed for that one. Not a lot of people seem to like that movie
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 20:27
I also liked Fifth Element
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 20:46
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 20:51
It is a good film. Also, John, I know this theoretical guy who...
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 21:26
...should probably be better with Maya by now....
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 21:47
One of Chris Tucker's best performances: Right on right on: (this scene killed me... well ... among the others - have a laugh :stroggtapir: )
Posted on 15 January, 2010 - 22:21
Where is John Molloy?
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 00:19
Not sure what you mean by that Salteh. I work at the SD offices with the rest of the team, and I live in London. I've updated my forum profile just because you asked :) Does that answer your question?
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 00:26
Well, I think Salteh just thought you might be on hols.
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 00:29
Are we going to drag out every office meme into this thread?
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 00:32
Yes. Absolutely. :D
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 00:34
So... what martial art(s) did you do? Do you still train? (With Flavius / Jonas? :infiltrator:) Reading a book a week seems like an insane amount of reading! :} *And yes, Secret of Mana is awesome - I still have it :)
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 00:49
Funny thing is I still have a copy of Secret of Mana too. I just don't have a snes anymore! I haven't done any martial arts in a very long time. I keep meaning to take it up again but I need to see a physio about some knock and bumps I took first. When I was training it was kenpo karate style
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 11:21
Where is John Molloy?
haha :D :D
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 12:00
I liked The Fifth Element, one of the few movies i've went to see at the cinema more than once! Bought the DVD as well and also got it on HD..
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 15:10
Interesting that you advocate university for getting into games. I'd advocate university for life in general (the experience, the knowledge gained, developing critical thinking) but you may be the first games degree graduate who advocates our current level of games education (in Britain). Everyone else has told me that design courses are very generic, not very focused, with too much time spent on loose theory with few case studies and not enough hands-on development, and that the practical/technical courses are also too generalised, too basic and out of touch with current-day industry practices; not to mention being taught either by experts who have no teaching skills or teachers who have been out of the loop for too long to claim to have the necessary technical expertise. That's the UK specifically, mind. I hear the situation is far better in the US and certain parts of Europe, such as the Nordic countries. So how does Brunel compare to the general experience people seem to be having? --- Funny, I'm currently playing through Secret of Mana at the moment with two mates, though we're making slow progress because we have to wait for a day that we're all free to play it. My friends tell me we have barely scratched the surface. My favourite feature has got to be the weapon charge system (you hold down a button to do up to 100% damage, and hold it longer to charge up a higher level attack), taking 1 button and 1 weapon and giving 9 different attacks without it being complicated in the slightest, not to mention the depth of hitting an enemy with a <100% charged-attack just to make them flinch long enough for your ally to land a fully-charged attack. Do any other games have this? If not why not? It's ace! I'd also be tempted to say it's the first example of a 'drop-in, drop-out' co-op system. I know arcade machines had drop-in for 2P, but I can't think of any that had drop-out. It's quite refreshing to be able to go grab a round of beers while the AI takes control of my character in-between new areas.
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 15:47
University isn't like secondary school. The responsibility to learn is on the the student more than on the lecturers. I'd have to have some specifics before I can argue how in or out of touch courses are, but I'll say a few general things. 1) Courses will always be slightly out of touch. The cutting edge stuff in our industry stays behind closed doors until the last possible moment. When Brink hits the shelves other developers will pick it up and learn from it, just like we take note of innovations in other games. Universities are playing catch up just like we are, but where a games companies sole purpose is to make games universities have to spread their resources across many different areas. 2) Technical or practical elements of courses, IMHO, should be generalised. You need to understand your role from first principals. Imagine studying level design just before games (in general) made the jump from 2D to 3D. If you were taught the principles of timing, positive/negative space, risk/reward, flow etc. then you'll make the transition comparatively easily. If you were simply taught to make levels in 2D-Engine-Alpha then you've suddenly lost the majority of your expertise. 3) When it comes to games courses you really have to do your research first. Look at what is being taught and who is teaching it. Look for industry ties as well. My personal preference is a course with a strong academic core and contacts to current industry knowledge. 4) Know what you want to study. Design is different to art, both are different to code and they're all different to production. Its best to know the workings of them all, but don't do a games programming course expecting to come out a designer. That being said you can always use the course as a base and expand your knowledge outside of the course plan. In answer specifically to the Brunel question. Brunel was the perfect fit for what I wanted to get out of a games course. It was 50% academic study and 50% design/production. The campus is in London so I could attend events and meet people. I had just completed 2 years at Ballyfermot and already had my basic development skills. Finally the course I took at Brunel was a masters degree, so it was very much about my drive and determination. I was in the inaugural class of that Masters so there was to performance record to consult. But if you look at it now, I believe it has a very strong graduate employment record coupled with an impressive rate of progression on to Phd study.
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 16:44
re: Secret of Mana. 1 button combat, I wonder where I've heard that recently :) I think you may be right about the drop out feature. Of course it wouldn't have been desirable in arcades, why would I pay to play and stop before I was knocked out? Although perhaps some of the Neo-geo games may have featured it since you could save your progress.
Posted on 16 January, 2010 - 16:46
I think this deserves a seperate interview/section/blog entry/topic... your thoughts about the degrees in game-related areas these days (bachelor or master, or whatever...) I'm currently in studying Art, hoping to get into Media Art & Digital Technology (which has animation, programming & 3D stuff (like 3DsMAX etc.) in it)... and I wonder what your ideas about these degrees, courses etc. are... =)
Posted on 18 January, 2010 - 03:23
To me, whether to go to Uni in Europe isn't even really a decision, it's just so cheap! In the US it's really dependent on the discipline you're going for, and you've got to expect to be repaying student loans for years to come. But they do teach you when and where to tighten up the graphics.
Posted on 18 January, 2010 - 10:06
Ahhh Crispy, the Bard of Splash Damage! His epic posts of woe keep the little Tapirs entertained around the camp fire at night :)
Posted on 18 January, 2010 - 10:36
Welcome here! 5th element is cool movie :D
Posted on 18 January, 2010 - 12:17
RE: Secret of Mana Did you ever let 'little nifty' ride on the dragon or did you always have to hog the controls? He looks funny:stroggtapir: Him not as much:stroggbanana:
Posted on 22 March, 2010 - 18:07
oh, he from Ireland !! great country :) or at least - great people(i meet some Irish people in Moscow from time to time). :-) and one of few "professional game developers"(by-education). thats quite uncommon for gamedev. and he work with P Molieneaux(i supect this great experience. as well as hard job)team. yeah, every single creature, made by yourself - building, ship, machine, too, software product and especially children's - make you feeling unexplainable GOOD :-) and yep, books and freaky addictive, i can hungry eat about 900 pages from semi-random human activity-realated, before i realized, what i did. as well as dangerous. Intellect bring responsibility as well as power. anyone should keep this in mind. p.s. i forget to add [quoted] input for my feedback about interview. but anyone can do it manually. "step-by-step", i guess thats mean, in starting recovering from square-bracket-addiction. thanks to new languages, to which im switching/studying now(particularly Japan, Smalltalk and Erlang). p.p.s. its always nice to know another memeber of SD team. keep going, guys. *fingercrossing for Brink*
Posted on 23 March, 2010 - 11:13